COLUMBIA — Will Collazo hitched a ride to Columbia from Miami, Fla., last week.
He had lost his job and his apartment, and he was heading to Oregon to see his brother. Columbia was as far as his ride could take him.
To avoid sleeping on the streets, Collazo spent Tuesday night at the Salvation Army's Harbor House on North Ann Street.
“The cold can get to someone mentally and physically,” he said. “I didn’t foresee myself being in this situation.”
According to the city’s 2009 consolidated plan, 372 homeless people live in Columbia. The number is difficult to confirm because of their transient circumstances.
During the winter, when cold weather forces those without a bed to seek shelter inside, the situation often worsens.
Sen. Kit Bond announced Thursday that $23 million in federal funds would be allocated to Missouri homeless programs. The Department of Housing and Urban Development will distribute the funds to prevent any lapse in federal assistance.
Of that amount, $506,049 will go to Columbia programs.
Last week, Jeff Stack brought the issue of homelessness to the attention of the Columbia City Council.
“I am urging that we have a collective, compassionate revolution of our hearts,” Stack, coordinator of the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation, told council members Monday night.
He made a plea to the community to offer a bed, sofa or spare room for a homeless person this winter and also spoke of his hopes of opening another facility to offer more beds.
Stack has been a volunteer at St. Francis House, 901 Range Line St., which provides six beds and four couches.
“I felt as if I had committed half a dozen crimes when I had to tell people they had to leave because it was full,” he said.
Stack said he has taken in a number of homeless people, and he encouraged the community to make a deliberate effort to solve the problem rather than accept it.
Although he does not have sufficient funds to open a new shelter, Stack said he hopes to coordinate with local government, churches and businesses to convert vacant space into shelters to reduce the number of homeless sleeping on the streets.
In an affluent, enlightened college town, he said no one should tolerate homelessness.
Although the Salvation Army's Harbor House has yet to turn anyone away this winter, the shelter has been at or near capacity most nights, filling all 41 beds and 15 cots.
When the temperature drops below freezing, Harbor House will do its best to take in anyone who comes off the streets, said Major Kendall Mathews, the Salvation Army’s regional coordinator for Columbia and Jefferson City.
“Columbia is a close-knit community, and we need to pool our resources to help these people,” said Mathews, who recently drove a struggling, mentally ill homeless man to a Salvation Army facility in Jefferson City when Columbia’s house was full.
The Harbor House has special staff meetings and in-service training to prepare for an influx of people when the weather gets cold, he said. The staff receives blankets and other supplies from the Red Cross, Phoenix Programs, Inc. and United Way when numbers swell.
Joseph Milligan, a resident at Harbor House, said living there is the closest he has come to the streets.
“With Missouri’s weather, it’s got to be hard to find somewhere warm and dry,” Milligan said. “I can’t even comprehend it.”
Although the city considers him homeless, Milligan calls Harbor House his temporary home and says he has never slept on the street.
Other shelters and churches are also helping this winter. First Presbyterian Church, in conjunction with Calvary Episcopal Church, offers a Saturday morning breakfast from 8 to 10:30 a.m. The menu varies, with cold cereal, hot cereal, pastries, eggs, fruits and juices as options.
Breakfast is currently served at the Episcopal church and will move to the Presbyterian church on the first Saturday in January.
“I think our numbers will continue to grow because the economy is rather depressed and the cold weather is coming,” said Kathie Jackson, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church.
Collazo, who found himself homeless for six months after being laid off from his job as a warehouse supervisor, said he was thankful for the resources he found in Columbia compared to those in Miami.
Julia Hanson, a Harbor House staff member, said she is thankful for the efforts to curb homelessness.
“I’ve lived in Columbia a long time, and I remember when none of this used to exist," Hanson said. "It’s amazing.”